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Welsh sheep farmers to help Farming Connect create EBV for methane yield

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WELSH farmers could soon have the option to breed sheep with a naturally low carbon footprint thanks to a new Farming Connect project with ambition to create an estimated breeding value (EBV) for methane yield.

Emissions from lambs in flocks involved in Farming Connect’s Welsh Sheep Genetics Project are being measured with portable accumulation chambers.

It is just one element of several linked to genetics that the programme will investigate over the next two years to help farmers strengthen flock performance, improve productivity and increase profitability, but an important one, says Heledd Dancer, Farming Connect’s Sheep Genetics Officer for Mid Wales, as it will give farmers the opportunity to select animals which genetically produce less methane.

This will help farmers assess and change their breeding programme and system to select sheep with lower methane emissions, enabling them to lower the carbon footprint of their flock and farm as well as contributing as an industry to reducing the overall environmental impact of methane emissions.

“We are giving farmers the unique opportunity to develop this EBV with us,’’ says Heledd.

“We know that sheep produce methane and we know there is a relationship between factors like gut size, so the intention is to figure out which animals in their flock can contribute to reducing methane emissions.’’

The chambers allow measurements to be taken from up to 12 sheep at a time – this will be done by Aberystwyth-based Innovis, who is working in conjunction with Farming Connect on this project; to allow for consistency, those sheep will be kept on the same grazing regime for the previous three weeks.

As methane yield is a heritable trait, measurements will be taken from lambs that have been produced by a variety of sires.

The project aims to take measurements from over 1000 lambs over a two-year period.

Gwawr Williams, Head of Sheep Genetics at Farming Connect, said this number is sufficient to develop a usable EBV for methane yield.

“It would also be sufficient to give us a good estimate of heritability within the population, for which we usually consider 900-1000 animals to be the minimum,’’ she says.

There is good evidence that sheep with lower methane yields have a lower reticulorumen volume therefore the project will also utilise CT scanning to obtain accurate measures of reticulorumen dimensions in the live animal.

“It is vital that we understand changes in reticulorumen volume that may be associated with breeding sheep with a lower methane yield so that we can ensure there are no unintended consequences in terms of the sheep’s ability to utilise low quality forages,’’ says Gwawr.

There are now over a hundred flocks involved in the Welsh Sheep Genetics Programme within two tiers, which also includes flocks which transitioned over from Hybu Cig Cymru’s Hill Ram Scheme.

Tier 1 is specific to hill and upland breeds while Tier 2 is for maternal breeds including the Blue Faced Leicester, Lleyn, Romney and Charmoise Hill.

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Farming

Police warn of disruption to traffic as farmers protests take place

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FARMERS protests are taking place in Aberystwyth and Carmarthen today (Feb 22.)

The police took to Facebook on Thursday morning saying: “We are aware of potential disruption to traffic in Carmarthen and Aberystwyth town centres from midday today.

“The traffic network in and out of the towns may also be affected.

“If you are planning on travelling in those areas today, please consider changing your route or journey time to avoid delays.

“We will update when we have further information.”

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Farming

Welsh Conservatives challenge Sustainable Farming Scheme in Senedd

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have tabled a motion for debate in the Senedd, aiming to overturn the controversial Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) proposals put forward by the Labour Government. The motion, scheduled for discussion next Wednesday, 28th February, calls for the abolition of the requirement for a 10% tree cover on farms and the scrapping of the current SFS proposals, amidst concerns over their impact on Wales’ agricultural sector and rural communities.

According to the Labour Government’s economic impact assessment, the implementation of the SFS could lead to a drastic reduction of 122,200 in Welsh livestock numbers, the loss of 5,500 jobs, and a £199 million hit to the rural economy. These figures have fueled the argument that the scheme could devastate rural communities across Wales.

Sam Kurtz: Unhappy with proposed farming scheme

Samuel Kurtz MS, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, has been vocal in his criticism of the scheme. He stated, “The economic analysis of the Sustainable Farming Scheme speaks for itself. With the projected loss of livestock, jobs, and significant economic damage, it’s clear that the SFS will decimate Wales’ rural communities.” Kurtz accused the Labour Government of neglecting the importance of the farming industry to Wales’ economy, society, culture, and language, and of ignoring the widespread opposition to the SFS within the agricultural community.

The motion presented by the Welsh Conservatives outlines the significant concerns surrounding the SFS, including the estimated reductions in livestock numbers, job losses on Welsh farms, and the consequent economic downturn. It also highlights the agricultural community’s strong opposition to the scheme and cites a poll commissioned by the Country Land and Business Association in Wales, which found that only 3% of Welsh farmers trust the Welsh Government’s handling of the issue.

In a bid to address these concerns, the motion calls on the Welsh Government to remove the tree cover requirement and to scrap the current SFS proposals. Furthermore, it urges the government to re-engage with the farming sector to develop a new scheme that garners the support of the farming community.

The debate, which is a crucial moment for the future of farming in Wales, is set to commence at approximately 5.30 pm on Wednesday, 28th February, in the Welsh Parliament. This marks a significant effort by the Welsh Conservatives to align with the farming sector and challenge what they see as detrimental policies towards rural Wales.

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Farmers protest as Drakeford arrives to open engineering centre

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PROTESTS erupted as First Minister Mark Drakeford arrived at Coleg Llandrillo, Rhyl, to inaugurate a new engineering centre. Approximately 200 farmers breached the college gates, marking a significant escalation in their ongoing protests against proposed changes to farming subsidies by the Welsh government.

The confrontation on Wednesday (Feb 21) involved pushing and shoving as the farmers followed Mr. Drakeford into the premises, expressing their discontent over the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) that mandates substantial alterations to their current practices. These changes include dedicating 10% of their land to tree planting and another 10% to wildlife habitats to qualify for governmental support.

This incident follows a contentious encounter earlier that day in Pentraeth, Anglesey, where a farmer confronted the First Minister, who attempted to evade the interaction. The protests are a culmination of growing frustration among the farming community, which has been vocal about the impracticality of the demands being made, especially concerning the running of their businesses and the feared increase in bureaucracy.

The Welsh government has defended its stance, asserting that the proposed changes are essential for both supporting farmers and addressing the escalating climate crisis. Officials argue that adaptation and a proactive role in environmental conservation are necessary conditions for receiving public funds.

Aled Jones, a farmer from Rowen, Conwy county, voiced the collective sentiment of the farming community, stating the necessity of unity to oppose what he perceives as misguided proposals by the First Minister. Similarly, Clare Morrilly from Overton, near Wrexham, highlighted the untenability of expecting farms to cede 20% of their productive capacity without dire consequences.

The protest at Coleg Llandrillo is part of a series of actions taken by farmers across Wales, including a significant disruption caused by a convoy of tractors and pickup trucks in west Wales and a gathering at a Welsh Labour leadership debate.

In response to the unfolding situation, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking at the House of Commons, criticized the Welsh ministers’ approach, which he described as counterproductive. The Prime Minister emphasized the central government’s commitment to backing rural communities across the UK.

The debate extends into the political arena with Conservative MP for Ynys Môn, Virginia Crosbie, raising concerns over the potential economic impact of the Welsh government’s plans, including job losses and a £200m blow to the Welsh economy. She called for the agricultural budget to be ring-fenced to safeguard farmers and food security.

Cover Photo: Philip Ashe

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